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Managing Migraines: Three Experts Share Their Top Tips

My wife’s migraines have started to interfere with her everyday life. How can she temper their effects?

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Zoltan Rona, MD

Zoltan Rona, MD

The debilitating effects of migraines can last anywhere from an hour to several days. The headaches are characterized by severe pain and often preceded by an aura-flashes of light, blind spots and nausea.

Doctors frequently prescribe drugs such as calcium channel blockers, beta blockers, anti-seizure drugs and antidepressants to combat migraines. Narcotics, Botox injections and a new class of drugs that boost serotonin called triptans (Imitrex, Maxalt and Zomig) are also options for your wife. She could consider stress reduction through acupuncture and biofeedback, a therapy that uses a machine to help patients train their minds to reduce pain signals. Some people benefit from better hydration and blood sugar optimization.

She could also try one or more natural remedies like magnesium, 5-HTP, butterbur, melatonin, vitamin B2, coenzyme Q10, probiotics and omega-3. Strong fluctuations in hormone levels can increase migraine frequency and severity. Encourage your wife to undergo testing from her health-care provider to determine what therapies might work best.

Dr. Zoltan Rona (@drzoltanrona) practises complementary medicine in Toronto, edits The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing and is the author of the bestseller Return to the Joy of Health.

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Amanda Vogel, Fitness Instructor

Amanda Vogel, Fitness Instructor

Exercise can help prevent migraines in several ways. First, evidence suggests that being obese may contribute to the headaches; exercise is an effective way to lose weight. Being physically active also helps relieve general and daily stress, which is a known cause. Activities such as yoga and tai chi, which foster relaxation and deep breathing, may be especially beneficial. Swedish researchers found that exercising for 40 minutes, three times a week, was as effective as medication and relaxation techniques for prevention. Other research also suggests that regular aerobic exercise, such as jogging or cycling, helps stave off the headaches. Since exercise is sometimes a migraine trigger, though, it’s a good idea to log workouts to ensure a certain style-high-impact or vigorous workouts, for example-isn’t part of the problem. Also, warming up adequately helps avoid the feeling of sudden exertion, which could be problematic.

Amanda Vogel (@amandavogel), MA human kinetics, is a Vancouver-based certified fitness instruct-or and author of numerous books, including Baby Boot Camp: The New Mom’s 9-Minute Fitness Solution.

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Julie Daniluk, Nutritionist

Julie Daniluk, Nutritionist

The bad news is that eight per cent of the population suffers from migraine headaches, and most are caused by a combination of triggers. The good news is that many of them are avoidable, particularly if you can isolate your sensitivities by keeping a migraine diary.

Tyramine is a substance found in cheese, cured meat, wine and beer, and is a common trigger. Foods such as wheat, eggs, tea, coffee, chocolate, milk, beef, corn, cane sugar and yeast can also trip the pain switch. Other ingredients to monitor include MSG, nitrates and sulphites hidden in processed foods. Many Canadians suffer from low levels of magnesium, which can contribute to headaches. Your wife could try magnesium supplements.

She should also consider how much she’s eating. Eating too much sugar or too many simple carbs and starches can spike blood sugar levels. Your pancreas releases insulin to lower your levels, and that plummet can trigger a migraine. She should keep lots of high-fibre snacks on hand, and eat omega-3 fats and protein at each meal to manage her blood sugar effectively and reduce inflammation.

Toronto-based certified nutritionist Julie Daniluk (@JulieDanilukco-hosts the reality cooking show Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network and is the author of Meals That Heal Inflammation.